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Re: Help is obsolete

From: Al Gilman <asgilman@iamdigex.net>
Date: Thu, 06 Dec 2001 17:11:18 -0500
Message-Id: <200112062201.RAA1876707@smtp2.mail.iamworld.net>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Cc: MKDoc developers list <mkdoc-devel@webarch.co.uk>
At 11:53 AM 2001-12-06 , Kynn Bartlett wrote:
>At 10:04 AM -0500 12/6/01, Al Gilman wrote:
>>AG::  All of the people there could consider the evidence that separate,
>>static pages for "help" are obsolete.
>Is this presented from the view point of "how things really SHOULD work"
>or is it based on user studies and observed behavior?


Excellent question.  May I claim something somewhere between those two

No, it is not backed up with controlled experiments with statistical analysis
of the significance of results.

But yes, it is backed up by corroborating evidence.  At least I interpret the
great popularity of on-mouse-over transient displays as evidence of greater
usabilty for local variations in the display against a stable ground, as
compared with a total context swap which fails to carry along any particulars
from the context where the real problem is.

On the other hand, it is often not appreciated why people with visual
impairments often prefer a flattened static or "offline" presentation of large
bodies of material.  My interpretation is that this is because the navigation
grid is reliable, and can be operated on from memory, in this sort of a
So there is evidence in both directions.

For a home-grown example, consider how well The WAVE was received.  This give
feedback inline rather than offline.

So I consider what I said a strong hypothesis with some evidence to support
and eagerly await more information that would confirm, deny or adjust it.

Are you aware of any good objective studies that would be within spitting
distance of extrapolation to this scenario?


>I think it may be too soon to declare one type of user assistance as
>"obsolete" especially if that type is in widespread use on nearly
>every operating system and application, from Windows help files to
>Unix man files.
>It's very common to identify specific items which "theoretically" are
>not necessary, but which "in practice" are still desirable because
>it will be expected and easily understood by users.  An example is
>the left-hand navigation bar, which Jakob Nielsen agreed is inferior
>but which he had to concede special dispensation based on widespread
>use resulting in user expectations.
>Do you have any studies to back up the assertion that static help pages
>are obsolete?  (Are they obsolete in the way that books about computers
>are "obsolete" too?)
>Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Received on Thursday, 6 December 2001 17:01:53 UTC

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